Khem Birch and the Toronto Raptors are back in Canada full-time for the 2021-22 regular season, and while they may have kicked off this campaign with a loss to the Washington Wizards, that should do little to erase the fact that they are in a much more stable environment this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on traveling the US and Canada forced the Raptors to set up shop in Tampa. While the locals tried the best they could to give the Raptors a home environment, it’s clear that the squad just could not get into a groove.
Playing in a converted hockey arena and practicing inside of a hotel ballroom, the Raptors slumped to a 27-45 record. Birch, a native Canadian who joined Toronto after the Magic bought him out, claims that the 2021-22 campaign is a proper basketball season, while last year should have an asterisk next to it.
Birch claims that he doesn’t “think Tampa counted” for the Raptors. Can you really fault him? The Raptors basically played 82 road games last year, as “homestands” felt like road trips due to the fact the stands were full of generic NBA fans looking for something to do on a Tuesday night.
Khem Birch knows the Toronto Raptors belong in Canada.
Birch was able to play his first game in Toronto as a member of the home team against Washington on Wednesday night. While he didn’t pick up the win and came off the bench behind Precious Achiuwa, Birch did record nine points and nine rebounds, standing out as one of the few players on this team who could hold his head high after that loss.
Even when you consider the on-court disadvantages of playing at a neutral site and the facilities, perhaps the most taxing part of that season had to be the emotional side of things, as players were separated from their routine and daily lives in Canada just to grind out a 27-win season.
After spending most of his career in Florida with either Orlando for his new squad in their temporary home, Birch has been reveling in the opportunity to play for his hometown team, calling it a “dream come true.” Khem Birch is one of three Canadians on this team along with Chris Boucher and Dalano Banton.
The Raptors gave it their all last year, but it’s impossible to be truly successful in the conditions that Toronto was stuck in. Birch knows that last year was not necessarily indicative of some of these players or this organization, and he’s geared up to help them get back on track in their native country.